My hens are like scorned lovers

Michael Apichella ANL-151123-125029001
Michael Apichella ANL-151123-125029001
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Someone once said a chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. Sorry about that. But I have chickens on my mind.

When I began writing full-time, my family worried I’d have nothing to do all day, so they bought me four hens. The day the chickens arrived in cartons, the kids named them.

While I admit their names seem to match their personalities (Daphne is broody and Gwen is feisty) I call them the red, white, black and white one.

It makes it less traumatic if we need to eat them one day. Actually, that’s unlikely as these ladies lay 28 eggs a week, so the likelihood of one of them ending up in a pot is pretty much close to zero.

We fry, scramble, poach and boil the eggs, or use daily harvests to add flavour and texture to recipes.

Furthermore, a dozen freshly-laid eggs makes a nice gift for friends. And a chunky wicker-basket of brown eggs on the windowsill in our kitchen makes me feel that old Monty Don would approve.

Eat my hens? Never. As I say, they’re value for money. Each month, I spend about £30 on chicken food and supplies, but at £2 per dozen of eggs in the shop, I’ve easily saved what I’ve spent so far. Well, nearly. Er, anyhow, I reckon someday I’ll break even.

I admit, we newly-converted hen keepers are zealous, like folks that’ve gone gluten-free.

We tell people how we can’t imagine why we didn’t turn our back garden into a barnyard sooner.

While it’s true the eggs are delightful, it’s hard to tell by taste alone which is a store-bought egg or one laid that morning.

But taste isn’t all that goes into enjoying food. Appearance matters.

There’s a world of difference between store-bought eggs – yolks, thin, pale and decidedly wishy-washy – compared to the perky, proud, dark-yellow yolks of eggs still warm from Daphne’s ample posterior.

And this brings me to why hens are on my mind today. Back in December, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned poultry keepers in Suffolk and elsewhere to quarantine livestock inside because of outbreaks of avian influenza.

Initially, we were told the animals must be kept away from wild birds until January 6, but now that date has been pushed back, and I worry that the quarantine may be drag on.

The hens must remain inside. Since locking up my hens, they’ve plenty of space, but their personalities have shrunk.

They’re still laying okay, although it’s now down to 20-21 eggs a week, but curiously, they never roost at night.

Instead, they sit around, out in the open, staring at nothing, like people watching reruns of Friends.

Having figured out how to exploit my nurturing side, they’re playing mind-games with me. Like my dog tilting his pathetic head with his lead in his teeth at 10:30pm when it’s blowing a gale outside, no sooner do the hens see me coming, they stop pecking at the grapes and pellets I scatter for them and strike lugubrious poses like depressed jailbirds.

And their eyes. Gone are the loving, quick, curious glances they used to give me. It’s all anger. Resentment. Like scorned lovers.

If they could understand me, I’d whisper, as I used to for my kids when they needed to take horrible medicine, “This is good for you.” Perhaps they’d understand that.

Still, I’m glad they aren’t online, or they’d be running around like, well, chickens, tweeting their followers with “#Sign-the-petition. We don’t deserve this.”

-- Popular speaker and lecturer Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his website at www.michaelapichella.com, contact him at apichellaspeaker@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter, @MApichellaPhD